With Senator Maria Cantwell, D‑Washington, as lead negotiator, the United States Senate put together and passed the CHIPS and Science Act to give a major shot in the arm to America’s semiconductor industry as the country faces a chip shortage and an innovation challenge from China.
The legislation, officially entitled Create Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) Act, passed on a bipartisan 64–33 vote and was sent for final House passage before going to President Biden.
What happened at that point was absurd. The House Republican leadership whipped a “No” vote, just as sit did last year on the infrastructure package.
The bill would spend $52 billion in grants to microchip manufacturers as incentive to construct domestic semiconductor fabrication plants.
It would allow the National Science Foundation to invest $20 billion on research technology during the next five years and create a Technology Directorate to help universities patent and market products of their research.
The U.S. Department of Energy would receive $16.9 billion for research, development and deployment. The DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, headquartered in Richland, is a major employer in the state.
In our technology-driven state, all three Republican House members voted No. Representative Dan Newhouse, R‑Washington, represents Richland and is forever tweeting about his district as a technology center.
Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R‑Washington, spoke against CHIPS and Science, telling colleagues: “I support making chips in the United States but we cannot lead a new era of innovation through massive government subsidies. We cannot beat China by trying to outspend them. The CHIPS bill unlocks the Democrats’ tax and spending spree.”
The dishonesty of her speech stands out on multiple grounds. Historically, the federal government seeds basic research that yields new technologies.
A dramatic recent example: Vaccines against the coronavirus. As Cantwell put it: “We know that innovation is in the DNA of America. We know it’s helped us win world wars, it’s helped us cure disease, it’s helped create millions of jobs.”
Politically, Republicans sent themselves into a fury when Senators Chuck Schumer and Joe Manchin announced they’ve reached agreement on a reconciliation bill, a $369 billion climate and health package. Its ingredients range from tax credits for clean power plants, credits for middle-income Americans to purchase electric cars, and permission (at last!) for the federal government negotiate drug prices with Big Pharma. A fifteen percent corporate minimum tax would pay for the package.
Senate Republicans retaliated immediately, blocking legislation that would increase availability of health care benefits to more than 3.5 million American veterans exposed to burn pits and toxic substances. Forty Senate Republicans voted against ending debate on what has been a carefully negotiated bipartisan bill: the ironically named Honoring Our PACT Act.
McMorris Rodgers devoted much of her House floor speech to denouncing the reconciliation bill, calling it part of “a grand socialist agenda for more control and more inflation.”
So did Republican colleagues, nicknaming it the “Build Back Broke” bill.
Rodgers has a long history of acting this way. She called for repeal of the Patient Protection Act, as Medicaid expansion was helping low-income residents in rural corners of her Eastern Washington district.
She didn’t lift a finger when Representatives Dave Reichert, R‑Washington, and Denny Heck, D‑Washington, used a discharge petition to bring renewal of the U.S. Export Import Bank to the House floor.
Right wing Republicans had bottled up Ex-Im. But miraculously, it survived.
McMorris Rodgers is also sponsoring legislation that would step up oil and gas drilling on federal lands and push aside such regulatory “burdens” as the Endangered Species Act. So is Newhouse, in his role as chairman of the Western Caucus, a group of conservative House members intent on such goals as weakening the Endangered Species Act and curtailing the President’s ability to designate national monuments. Agribusiness made a stink when President Clinton, at urging of Senator Patty Murray, created the Hanford Reach National Monument.
Eastern and Central Washington, and the Southwest Washington district of Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler, R‑Washington, are enduring triple-digit temperatures as of when this post was written and published.
The Evergreen State has suffered record forest and range fires in the last few years. The Carleton Complex fire, in Newhouse’s district, burned 240,000 acres. Central and Eastern Washington are in drought.
Climate damage has arrived in this temperate corner of America. It threatens our livability, our security, our snow and glacier-fed water supply.
Why, then, are Republican lawmakers going to the mat against the most important climate legislation in American history? Why are they blocking veterans legislation when they go on right wing media to sing veterans’ praises?
The answer is probably power.
‘Took them long enough, but Democrats are at last finding ways to grow the American economy and protect the Earth. The constructive exercise of power goes against everything witnessed when Republicans controlled Congress, especially a Senate that served as a legislative graveyard.
We may see those days return in the November midterm elections. No further action on climate, no relief from drug prices, no protection for the rights to marry the person you love or continued access to contraception.
Cathy McMorris Rodgers will be in the clover. If Republicans win, she is in line to chair the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee.